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Tuesday, 1 May 1973
Page: 1503

Mr SCHOLES (Corio) - lt is interesting to examine the speech of the honourable member for Berowra (Mr Edwards). The main import of it was that by some strange twist of the imagination he associated the complete breakdown of the free enterprise system in the United States of America with his story about the non-production of hogs. He seemed to want to compare that idea with the waterfront in Australia. 1 do not know how he can do this. He does not seem to be aware that the present system of waterside labour employment in Australia was devised and introduced by a Government of the same political colour as himself. It was introduced because in the opinion of the Government at that time it offered the best and most economic means of employing waterside labour. 1 doubt very much whether the honourable member for Berowra would seek to alter that system if he were sitting on this side of the House. It is all very well to say that large amounts of money are being spent in idle time. It is interesting to remember that in his speech the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) said that the reason the Opposition is supporting this Bill is the change in the man hour levy which will enable outports such as Portland and a number of others around Australia to continue in operation. That was the reason and the only reason given by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for supporting the Bill.

This proposed amendment to the Act has taken place because of the outcry in the smaller ports over each port being required to finance its total amount of idle time. This Bill seeks to place that burden equally on all ports. In the case of Portland, which was the area of most concern, the previous division of idle time payments amongst all outports meant a levy of 40c a man hour. The change which took place when the Employers of Waterside Labour decided to levy each port according to its needs was from 40c a man hour to $1.20 a man hour in Portland. It may have been $1.25 a man hour but it was of the order of that level of change. This Bill reduces the man hour levy to something between 2c and 10c for the port of Portland. So the reason the Opposition is supporting this Bill is because the burden of meeting idle time in outports is being transferred to the major ports. Therefore, if the arguments the honourable gentleman has put up are logical at all, he is supporting the Bill because it enables idle time to be more easily paid for in outports. This is the logic of the argument which is being put forward on his side of the House. 1 do not want to deal with that matter further but 1 think it is proper to ensure that this House realises exactly what the previous Government was doing with regard to waterside labour.

The increase in the overall levy, which has been criticised by both Opposition speakers so far, is to enable sufficient funds to be available to pay for retirement, long service leave and the other commitments which must be met by the Employers of Waterside Labour. The previous Government refused to accept the recommendations of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority or the recommendations of the Employers of Waterside Labour and demanded that a figure be fixed which it knew, as a result of advice from the Stevedoring Industry Authority and the employers, would not meet the costs accruing in the industry. This was done for the deliberate purpose of creating industrial unrest on the waterfront during a period approaching a Federal election and I think it should be made clear to everyone that that was the prime reason. This Bill relieves outports of a burden which would have had the effect of destroying completely several of Australia's smaller ports. The Bill also removes a burden from the port of Geelong especially for that burden was disadvantaging that port to a considerable degree. Under the previous system the port of Geelong had been paying a levy of 40c to meet a requirement in its own port of 2c, the remainder being utilised to subsidise other outports. So the port of Geelong was carrying a penalty of 38c a man hour to subsidise other ports.

When the campaign began in this House to have the 40c restored as a uniform levy on outports, I put forward the proposition that it was not in the best interests of the decentralised ports in Australia for the levy to be restored to a uniform figure for all outports because this seriously disadvantaged the major outports without greatly advantaging the minor outports. The Government's decision to amend the Act in order to provide for a uniform levy is commendable and 1 pay tribute to the work done on this matter by some very sincere gentlemen who were not talking with their tongues in their cheeks. They are the State members for Portland, Mr Bill Lewis, and Dundas, Mr Eddie Lewis. They are the State members for the electorates surrounding Portland. (Quorum formed). This House should pay tribute to the work which was done by the member for Portland and the member for Dundas, both members of the Victorian State Parliament, who consistently and regularly pressed the relevant Minister to do something to save the port of Portland. The honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) who made a song and dance about it was a member of the Cabinet which introduced legislation enabling the penalties about which he is now complaining to be placed on Portland. He did not say one word against them at the time. He also pulled one of the shabbiest political tricks I have heard of by calling a public meeting in his electorate and deliberately excluding State members of Parliament from those people who were invited to attend the meeting. One wonders whether the motives of such people are to benefit their area or just to gain political points immediately before a State election.

There is one other matter I should deal with. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition spoke at some length about what the Victorian Government is doing for the port of Portland. The Victorian Government has set up a committee to inquire into what can be done to save the port of Portland. It is fortuitous for the Victorian Liberal Party Government that the committee was established at a time when its report could not be made to the present Victorian Government because of a pending State election. Blind Freddie knows that the committee was set up to take the heat off the State Government over its inaction on decentralisation in Victoria and for no other reason. There are probably several hundred reports of such committees in the pigeon holes of the Victorian Parliament House, the titles of which have not even been read by the relevant Ministers. This Bill proves that where a need exists this Government will act, and that is more than anyone can say for the Victorian Government, even by the greatest stretch of imagination. The policy of that Government is to set up a committee, and if the committee's report does not satisfy the situation it sets up another committee to inquire into the -first committee. It has done this so often that everyone in Victoria knows that this is the position.

If the Victorian Government had wanted to take action and if it had really wanted to do something about Portland - the problems which have faced Portland have been known for many years - it could have placed an embargo on the carriage of goods out of that area to Melbourne to be loaded on ships and sent overseas. Every bale of wool that is sold at Portland is shipped out of Melbourne., with rare exceptions. The same position applies to every bale of wool that is sold at the port of Geelong. The goods are hiked off by trucks and trains to Melbourne where they are loaded onto ships. If the Victorian Government had wanted to do anything about that it would have had no difficulty at all. It has the legislative power to prevent the transfer of goods out of those areas and to force the shipping companies to load the goods in the areas concerned. But it will not do that. It has not done it, for the very good reason that it considers it to be outside its charter to interfere with the business operations of private enterprise. There is a buck to be made out of it.

I support the Bill. I am glad that the Opposition is supporting the Bill. Having heard the honourable member for Berowra it is difficult to understand why he is supporting the Bill because he made a pretty vehement attack in relation to idle time on the wharf. It would appear to me that he was suggesting that it would be far better to reduce the amount of idle time pay and increase the turn-round time of ships. I do not think the shipping companies would agree with that. I am sure that it would not be in Australia's national interests. Already the turn-round time of ships is critical on occasions. It costs more to tie up a ship than it does to pay men occasionally for idle time. This legislation will do much for outports such as Geelong. Also it will enable employers of waterside labour to meet their commitments to their employees. Any government or political party which suggests, as has been suggested by the Opposition today, that provision should not be made in legislation for basic award conditions and agreements under which employees shall work is totally irresponsible. I suggest that any person who puts that forward should not be speaking in this House. I support the Bill.

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